Chromebooks: are they any good? (guide)
Chromebooks in the right usage circumstances are great. In circumstances of misuse, they are a disaster. With the recent TV saturation ad campaign, you may be considering one.
The right circumstances are as a light user not married to Windows or Mac. The wrong circumstances are if you are a typical user and expect it to replace a Windows or Mac computer.
Chromebooks started out as cloud devices built around Google’s cloud apps (Gmail, Calendar, Google Drive, Chrome Browser, G-Suite, etc.). Today they can do some edge computing (on the device) and support some local storage. They mainly use applications of the Chrome Web Store, and you should fully explore it to see if your needs are met. The number of Chrome apps that work offline isn’t huge, but it’s growing.
Chrome OS can also run some Android apps (runs an Android emulation on Chrome OS) that isn’t as fast, compatible, or necessarily fits the 16:9 display as an Android smartphone or tablet. These are from google play store (Select the Chromebook section.)
Otherwise, you can access any online application through the Internet and Chrome OS (actually Chrome Browser), so you can use online versions of Office 365 (Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.).
Chromebooks in education
Many parents are drawn to the lower cost and lack of understanding of Chromebooks in education from the vendor. Google, the maker of ChromeOS, says they’ve been used in schools for more than a decade.
NSW T4L (Technology Learning 4) has a segment on Chromebooks purchased through EdBuy (you can’t bring your own – see page 32) with the Google Education suite and Classroom management tools pre-installed. Chromebooks are typically a fleet of shared devices where a student logs into any device in a computer lab.
Many schools reject Chromebooks because they don’t have enough Wi-Fi and Internet bandwidth to use online applications.
If you click the EdBuy link above and look at Windows and Mac devices, there’s a handy “What can a device in this category do?”.
Chromebooks in businesses
Today, businesses do much of their computing in the cloud: office productivity, accounting, CRM, POS, and more.
Like Education, you can buy ‘fleet’ Chromebooks with business management systems pre-installed. The focus is on security and limiting user exposure to viruses, restricting access to corporate clouds only, and controlling the potential leak of company data.
The main issue here is that access to Microsoft 365 is online only and there is no equivalent Windows C:> file structure. And if you don’t have good Wi-Fi and Internet speeds, Chromebooks are useless. Finally, cloud storage costs money, and the cost of providing employees with cloud storage and accounts may outweigh any device cost savings.
Chromebooks at home
I lived with a premium Chromebook for a week, but we won’t identify it because all Chromebooks work in a similar way. I also declare that I am interested in the world of Microsoft Office and I run many programs to review equipment.
My first impression was a sleek 360° hinge, Intel i3-1110G4 processor, 8GB/1286 SSD, and 14” 1920 x 1080 touchscreen and stylus. This is what you expect in a low-end Windows laptop.
I have NBN 100/20Mbps and the fastest in the world NETGEAR Orbi RBKE963 Quad-Band Wi-Fi 6E AX 11000 Mesh (Network Review), so Wi-Fi speed and Internet access are not a problem.
Microsoft 365 Online – Acceptable
I create a copy in Word using a single font, bold, underline, and tables. Document open speed was just over 10 seconds (instantaneous when opened on a Windows PC), and it was fine for basic editing, plus re-familiarity with ribbon commands. What was missing was to convert text to table and edit link options to open in a new tab. The more I used Word, the more differences (deficiencies) I found.
Excel seemed to have most of the standard features, but it took too long to open existing sheets, usually showing ‘We’re having problems’. Please try again later’. New spreadsheets had the message “We’re having trouble getting templates.” Overall, Excell worked as it should with fewer ribbon command glitches (unlike Word, it has a proper ribbon).
Outlook opened my CyberShack account but didn’t add my private Microsoft or Gmail accounts. Like Word, it had a simplified feature set.
We use WordPress, which copy and paste text and tables from Word online.
Major issues arose with device drivers for webcams, microphones, printers, and multi-display usage. There are no ChromeOS apps for most webcams and companion devices. My HP PageWide and Epson InkTank do not have printer and scanner drivers. Networking was a big problem, and expansion is limited to USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 5Gbps for an external monitor.
I couldn’t run any video test apps (or find ChromeOS equivalents).
Summary: If I had more time, I might have solved some problems, but not all. It’s slower and clunkier than working on a Windows PC.
CyberShack Opinion: Chromebooks Are Overrated
It’s amazing how a flashy ad campaign can change people’s perceptions (Google site here – not that many had the perception of Chromebooks as an alternative to Windows and Mac. Despite the advertising promises, few will be happy if they switch from Windows or Mac.
In fact, the review unit came not from a vendor but from a fellow who spent $800 on the JB Hi-Fi and needed help getting it up and running. Now it’s back at JB and replaced with a $799 ASUS Vivobook 15.6” (sold out) plus a $129 per year Microsoft Office 365 Family (six people). Problem solved.
I spoke to my Sydney-based retailer “spy” JB, who confirmed that Chromebook interest was at an all-time high due to the ad campaign, but so were returns. Sales people are cautioned to thoroughly pre-qualify a user for suitability and forget to sell to Mac and Windows owners.
Gartner and IDC report that Chromebook sales at the end of Q2 2022 were down a whopping 51.4% year-over-year in the US. IDC Figures for Q3 2022 show more ‘dives’. I can’t help but wonder if the huge increase in advertising is to move excess stock.
Ironically, Windows users can download chrome operating system to an old laptop to try, but remember that you’ll need your Mac or Windows activation key if you want to go back.
Works out of the box after Wi-Fi/Internet connection
Less chance of a virus
Run some Android apps
Stick to ChromeOS and Google-suite (Workspace) apps
Good for SaaS (Software as a Service) cloud applications.
Not for Windows or Mac users – won’t do many critical things
bad media editing
Everything online can be a problem with Wi-Fi/Internet speed and reliability.
Microsoft 365 online is not the same as on your PC
Google Workspace lacks many features of Microsoft 365. Moving between Microsoft 365 can cause issues such as loss of features and formatting.
Limited controller and expansion options